“There is only one kind of story: a hero’s story.” – Joseph Campbell
Storytelling is essential to your video because the most effective way to communicate your message has been pre-determined for thousands of years. From the moment King Gilgamesh slays the serpent in the goddess Inanna’s Huluppu tree in the ancient Sumerian poem, “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,” the hero’s journey has been the blueprint for every story to this day.
So whether it’s the “Epic of Gilgamesh” or an animated explainer video, storytelling is what makes the message memorable and effective.
Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” is the unofficial bible of professional storytellers. In this seminal work, Campbell lays out his theory of the “monomyth,” a storytelling structure shared by ancient myths from different places and cultures worldwide.
Campbell argued that the secret symbolic language in our myths, or stories, is a part of what makes us human, and we are hardwired to make sense of ourselves and the world in which we live by tapping into “the hero’s journey.”
The hero’s journey is a pattern modern writers call “the rule of three,” or telling a story in three acts. If you’re shooting an epic feature film or a thirty-second spot for YouTube, your script will be three acts. Campbell’s three acts are The Separation (Beginning), The Initiation (Middle), and The Return (End).
As the hero moves through the narrative arc, they experience seventeen stages that complete the journey. It is unnecessary to explain the seventeen stages for our purposes, only that the same seventeen stages are in every story.
The Customer is the Hero
In your video storytelling, the hero is your customer, and their journey is to discover your product, service, cause, or organization. The hero must always be your customer, not your brand. Your brand takes the active role as mentor or guide, a critical character in the hero’s journey to freedom.
To know your hero’s journey, you must know your customer. If you’ve done your research, you have a demographic and psychological profile of your customer, but those are still only first impressions. Only storytelling can take that raw data and create a memorable character that connects with customer experience.
The hero’s journey in video content must happen in 15-seconds to 1 minute. In addition, the storytelling must be precise to be effective. To that end, Separation, Initiation, and Return can be funneled through two standard plot lines, Slaying the Monster and The Quest, which are popular video storytelling techniques.
Once again, our modern techniques derive from the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on a quest for glory and slay multiple monsters. Then, after The Gods kill Enkidu for slaying one of the monsters (The Bull of Heaven for those keeping score), Gilgamesh goes on a quest for eternal life.
Slaying the Monster
Defeating some monster is the most common plotline your video can have. But, do not confuse “most common” with “unoriginal.” The viewer does not see the archetypal quest to slay the monster, but it is the symbolic story told. In this story, the regular life of your hero, your customer, has been disrupted by a problem they can’t solve.
This problem separates your customer from the people they love or things they love to do. However, supernatural aid in the form of a brand’s product or service. The product or service solves their problem, reunites them with their loves, and changes their life for the better.
Allstate Insurance’s Hero vs. Mayhem commercials is a masterclass in slaying the monster. Your hero, who is your customer, has a significant problem. A fast-talking and hilarious villain named Mayhem, who wreaks havoc in crazy entertaining ways, disrupts their otherwise peaceful life.
Your hero protects their family with Allstate Allstate insurance, which gives him freedom from the financial burdens of unforeseen disasters.
In this plotline, the hero goes on a quest. King Arthur and his knights go on the Quest for the Holy Grail. Your hero, who is your customer, also goes on a search for a Holy Grail in your video. Your product or service acts as a guide to that grail, which can be anything depending on your line of business.
An even more nuanced way of telling a quest story is to make the hero’s journey about meta-themes that express values instead of a specific product. For example, the hero goes on a quest for a healthy lifestyle, not to buy a particular pair of shoes.
The Quest is in every car commercial. The hero, who is your customer, goes on a journey in a car to find the holy grail of speed, freedom, and, for lack of a better term, sex appeal. The vehicle allows the hero to attain the lifestyle they have always wanted.
Excellent videos are powerful marketing tools that connect with potential customers on an emotional level. Digital video is the current unchallenged king of content marketing. Visual stories have high conversion rates traced to storytelling’s emotional impact on the viewer.
Storytelling video that sticks to the blueprint and makes the average person a hero is a winning marketing strategy.